Blackhawks' Rocky Wirtz Talks New Book, Firing Of Coach Q

George Ofman
December 04, 2018 - 8:02 am

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- The Blackhawks are reeling just a few years after they were rolling. The team missed the playoffs last season, recently fired three-time Stanley Cup champion coach Joel Quenneville and are languishing in less than mediocrity. 

The chairman of the board recently released a book about the inside relationship of the Wirtz family and the Blackhawks entitled, “The Breakaway,” authored by veteran Chicago journalist, Bryan Smith. In a wide-ranging interview with WBBM Newsradio’s George Ofman, Rocky Wirtz exposes family dysfunctions he equates with all families, only normal ones are not corporations with successions to power. Wirtz exposes some of the warts in a family that has owned the Hawks since 1954.

WBBM: Why did you do it?

"Well hopefully it was more of telling a story," Wirtz said. "...I said I would do it under two caveats - one it couldn't be a puff piece and I said no one wants to talk about a rich guy getting richer, by selling a book, and the second thing is, all proceeds have to go to the Blackhawks Foundation...then I just want to tell the story, and hopefully it is a story about a family, like we all have. There is dysfunction in every family, there's happy times, sad times; and then this family happens to own a hockey team, and not about a hockey team, because no one wanted to read another book about the Blackhawks, and so I thought if we could wrap that all up together, and get a good history...I thought it would be a good way to connect all the dots."

It's definitely not a puff piece and is clearly not another book about the Blackhawks. Wirtz details how his grandfather Arthur, the first owner of the team, made his fortune and passed the team down to his son Bill.  But it’s the painful relationship between Rocky and his dad that is most prevalent and eye opening.

WBBM: You opened yourself up - every family is dysfunctional but not many are apart of a business empire and what struck me the most was your relationship, and your non-relationship with Bill, your father. 

“I loved him dearly, but sometimes I didn’t like him," he said. "...I worked very, very close with him for 40 years. So those people in family businesses realize he's your boss, but he is also your father, so there are certain dynamics there..."

There was even a time when Bill wrote off his son deciding not to invite him and his family to Christmas. He sent the gifts to his home. He also tried to remove Rocky’s succession to ownership, preferring his other son Peter, take control. The move was unsuccessful.

WBBM: I remember pretty vividly the day he died. I was working at 670 The Score and I wrote, "As the Blackhawks family is mourning, it is a new morning for Blackhawks fans." I did not realize how prophetic those words would be not too long after that, because with all do respect, your father was despised by Blackhawks fans...and then along comes a guy named Rocky Wirtz and suddenly a member of the Wirtz family that was reviled was revered. People were cheering you. How did that happen so quickly?

"I wish I knew. I would have it in a bottle, rub it, and have a genie," Wirtz said. "My job was to repair relationships, however you have to do that."

WBBM Newsradio

Wirtz backs the direction the Hawks are currently headed in. He supported the firing of Quenneville.

“For whatever reason, it had to be done,” said Wirtz, who added “we had to give Joel an opportunity to see what he could do and it wasn’t working. And instead of taking it to the end of the year and saying, well, we didn't make the playoffs again...we had someone in the wings, Jeremy, who quite frankly is young, but every stage of where he has been, has been very successful. Most people in Chicago don't know him, but I think they will get to know him very, very well."

But many Hawks fans and even a large portion of the media thought Wirtz fired the wrong guy. He instead defended General Manager Stan Bowman.

“Don’t forget, Stan Bowman won three Stanley Cups and they say well he wasn't the General Manager in 2010, but he still had to deal with the aftermath in 2010, he had to death with the aftermath in 2013, and the aftermath in 2015 with a hard cap. In my humble opinion, we didn’t let the wrong man go," Wirtz said. "The fans, and I respect what they believe, but it is easy to throw the baby out with the bath water, but I think Stan has done a very good job and we will let his record speak for himself, and we will talk again at the end of the year."

WBBM: A year ago, I sat with John McDonough in his office. I asked him this question and I am going to ask you this question now. I said point blank, as presently constituted, can your team win a Stanley Cup with the current core and he said, yes, and the club did not make the playoffs. I'll ask you the question now, as currently constituted with an aging core, can you win a Stanley Cup?

"You can, and I think you can see the same thing in Pittsburgh and what they were able to do with some of their core players with what they had and how you can reconstitute it and have real success," Wirtz said. "The whole idea is your leadership in the locker room, which many people don't realize, as your core gets older, and we are kidding about older at 30-years of age, and then how do you develop these younger players to pick up, and time will tell, but I have complete confidence that this team is a playoff team...

"John McDonough has said it, and I agree with him 1,000 percent, once you get in the playoffs, anything can happen."

WBBM: A lot of people are going to disagree with that. A lot of people are going to look at what is happening on the ice now and are going to say, this is going to be a rough go for this club to make the playoffs. The arrow is not pointing up, the arrow is pointing down. 

"Don't forget just a few years ago we won the Western Conference, and what did we do, we lost four straight," Wirtz said. "It's really easy to sit on the sidelines and say what you can't do. The only way you can really prove it, is on the ice."

WBBM: So let's say in a couple of months from now, the club is still struggling and the playoffs - forget the Stanley Cup - the playoffs might not be as easy to get into and Stan knocks on your door and says, Rocky, forget the idea of remodeling, we may have to rebuild. I may have to see if I can trade Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews or Duncan Keith or Brent Seabrook or Corey Crawford. Would you give him the go-ahead?

"The bare question is, what do you want to do? Do you want to win today at all costs or do want to build to be a successful franchise for years to come? And we are not at that point yet and I think that's a question Stan has to ask, not do I want to trade this person or that person to make a sort term gain for a long term problem. I want to be relevant for a lot of years not just a flash in the pan," he said.

WBBM: But relevant for this franchise now has been that one goal, to win a Stanley Cup. What goes up, must come down. The Cubs saw that, they rebuilt. The White Sox saw that, they rebuilt. But you don't want to rebuild yet. 

"I don't think it is necessary. We have plenty of young kids. They just recently made a trade for one young individual for two other young people, so as Stan has said, he wants to make the team better, and whatever that means. I don't see that means that you have to trade veterans for the sake of trading veterans. As I said, how do you want to be good long term? I don’t think you want to be good short term for a year and bad for many, many years to come," Wirtz said. "I think if you start doing those short term decisions, you got a long term problem."

Proceeds of “The Breakaway: The Inside Story of the Wirtz Family Business and the Chicago Blackhawks," authored by veteran Chicago journalist, Bryan Smith, go entirely to the Blackhawks Foundation.